On hold with 911? Indiana bill seeks to increase operators, decrease emergency wait times

A bill advancing through the legislature would make it easier for 911 operators to work in different counties.

By: - March 21, 2023 6:45 am

Hoosiers are experiencing long wait times before getting through to a 911 operator. A bill, authored by Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, seeks to help recruit more operators. (Getty Images)

Five minutes, 10 minutes, even upwards of 18 minutes — that’s how long some Hoosiers said they’ve recently waited on hold before getting through to a 911 operator. Now, state lawmakers are taking action.

A bill authored by Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would remove residency requirements for 911 operators across the state. Sandlin said the bill should help increase the number of employed operators at a time when 911 centers are “very” in need.

The proposal advanced unanimously Monday from the House public safety committee and now heads to the full chamber.

“Because of the competitive nature that we’re in today for 911 employees and public safety employees, this would help by allowing them to apply across boundaries and would prohibit an entity from establishing a residency requirement,” Sandlin said.

The rule change mirrors a similar bill-turned-law in the 2021 legislative session that nixed the residency requirements for police officers and firefighters.

Existing residency requirements in Marion County, for example, stipulate that 911 dispatchers must live in the county in order to work there, unless they accept a waiver.

Sen. Jack Sandlin (Photo from Indiana Senate Republicans)

In committee, Sandlin said it’s already “difficult” to maintain personnel in all areas of public safety — including at dispatch centers. He noted that staffing shortages continue to plague local law enforcement and emergency operators in Marion County, especially, leading to long 911 wait times.

If passed, the senator said he hopes the change will help with retention.

Sandlin also pointed to recent concerns expressed by Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley.

In a WISH TV interview, the Democratic mayor referenced 13 callers to 911 over the weekend who were put on hold for “over 18 minutes.”

The National Emergency Number Association has established the national standard that 90% of all 911 calls be answered within 15 seconds and 95% answered within 20 seconds.

Michael Hubbs, Hamilton County 911 director and former head of the Marion County 911 communication center, said roughly 1.2 million calls are made to emergency dispatchers in Marion County each year. Sometimes, one incident can result in 10 or 15 calls, making it easy for call operators to get overwhelmed, he said.

Hubbs held that Sandlin’s bill will help.

“This is a definite need … we have to have people in those seats to do the job,” he told the House committee Monday. “The public safety spoke or hub starts at a 911 center. So, the bottom line is a police officer, an EMT, a firefighter — they don’t respond unless we have those calls answered.”

If enacted, the bill would take effect July 1.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.